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Senate Passed A Resolution To Honor MacNolia Cox, The First Black National Spelling Bee Finalist

Senate Passed A Resolution To Honor MacNolia Cox, The First Black National Spelling Bee Finalist

She’s finally getting the credit she always deserved!

The Senate just passed a resolution to honor the first Black National Spelling Bee finalist, News 5 Cleveland reports. 

MacNolia Cox was a 13-year-old Akron, Ohio native who became known for her impressive IQ. In 1936, just 11 years after the National Spelling Bee was instituted, Cox became a spelling prodigy and ended up qualifying for the National Spelling Bee held in Washington, D.C. 

Unfortunately, the segregation and Jim Crow laws made it hard on the child genius Cox and another Black student, 15-year-old Elizabeth Kenny of New Jersey, being subjected to harsh treatment on their way to the spelling bee. The two girls were forced to travel in the “colored” car of the train, forbidden from staying at the hotel with other contestants, and had to use the back door of the arena to get into the bee. Then they were relegated to sitting at a card table. 

Photo Credit: Akron Beacon Journal

Nonetheless, Cox persisted and became the first Black student to make the Top Five finalists in the competition after extensively studying the 100,000-word list given to every speller. When the all-white southern judges saw a Black child who could win the match, they conspired to eliminate her.

A. Van Jordan, author of “M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A,” called what happened next a despicable thing on the part of the judges. 

“They pulled a word that was not on that list, and you can’t make this up: the word was nemesis,” Van Jordan said. 

The word had just entered into the popular lexicon. At the time, it was defined as the Greek goddess of retribution - a proper noun that should’ve been ineligible - but that judges argued could be used as a common noun to disqualify Cox. 

Cox ended up misspelling the unapproved word and was eliminated from the Bee. 

To remedy this wrong done so long ago, Ohio senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown partnered to pass the resolution honoring Cox’s legacy in the Senate. 

Photo Credit:  The Akron Beacon Journal

“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan resolution to honor the life and legacy of Ohio native MacNolia Cox. As a 13-year-old girl, MacNolia traveled to Washington, D.C., as one of the first Black students to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, where she endured segregation and racial discrimination. MacNolia’s determination to display her talents, all while many did not want to see her succeed, continues to encourage and inspire young students of color today,” said Portman. 

“As the first of two Black students to compete in the National Spelling Bee as a finalist, MacNolia Cox was a trailblazer for those who would follow in her footsteps...MacNolia’s perseverance drove her through the barriers that had been placed in front of her and went on to finish fifth overall, inspiring young students of color today and every day. Let us continue to tell her story for future generations,” Brown added. 

Thank you for your sacrifice and example, MacNolia. May your legacy live on!

Photo Courtesy of Akron Beacon Journal